“Are you aware of the extropianist movement of transhumanism?”
To Josh this sounded like an odd question, but as such it was a single odd question in a career-spanning line of odd questions; the latest in a long history of surreal and arcane questions that generally prefaced some of the more unearthly of his missions. That his current Handler was asking the question as Josh made his way through a crowded nightclub at 1AM on a Wednesday morning seemed somehow appropriate. “Extropianist movement?” he asked. “I don’t even know what transhumanism is.”
There was silence on the line as the Handler did not immediately respond with an explanation. Josh assumed that she was looking up a definition of what transhumanism was, and took a moment to look around at the bouncing faces in the surrounding crowd. Before he even entered the club he knew he was going to be an anomaly in the throng of dancing twenty-somethings. They wore various styles of clothing, ranging from conservative out-on-the-town outfits to Japanese Harajuku gothic. He was in his late thirties, however, and wore a simple enough dark red button up shirt and black trousers. The bass thumped through the air, walls, and floors of the club, driving the crowd into a synchronized bouncing dance with their hands held high over their heads as though in religious ecstasy.
This was not Josh’s natural environment.
“Transhumanism is a collection of postmodernist philosophies centered on the idea of deliberately improving the human species through various technological means. Some seek simple biological immortality, while others focus on complete transcendentalism.” The Handler paused as though reading further ahead, and said, “It is a largely transformative philosophy encompassing physical, intellectual, and spiritual change.”
Josh moved into a more shadowy corner at the outer edges of the dance floor and leaned back against a flat black painted wall. His eyes roamed across bodies moving to the rhythm of the music and said, “So, that’s transhumanism, then. What’s this extropianist movement?” He knew that this conversation was a briefing on his mission assignment, and already suspected the gist of where this was going.
“Extropianism is one of the earlier transhumanist philosophies that emphasizes a preemptive attitude towards human evolution. The underlying belief seems to be a holistic improvement of the human condition through technology in terms of spirituality, intellectualism, and physical enhancement. It developed in the 80s, although its philosophical roots can be found as early as the 60s.”
The Handler was throwing the dictionary at Josh this time, and while he wasn’t having a hard time keeping up, he was hoping the Handler would get to a point where the mission could be passed on to him. “OK… So I take it my mission is to deal with a group of extropianists run amok?”
“This particular group has not run amok just yet, but they are on the edge of causing some trouble. While most people who subscribe to the tenets of extropianism are generally harmlessly optimistic, there are some who have embraced it in a more aggressive way. While most see a positive transformation for the bulk of humanity, a few have taken a more Nietzsche-influenced approach.”
“Nietzsche,” Josh muttered. While unfamiliar himself with the details of Nietzsche’s ideas even after hundreds of pages of labored reading, he had seen the results of some people really running with what they claimed were the German philosopher’s beliefs. They always adopted a self-important world-view in which they were the future of the human race. It was a way of thinking that easily led to a sense of entitled royalty, as though these people were going to be running things. Josh hated dealing with these types.
“Yes, Nietzsche. He is one of the most misinterpreted philosophers of all time, and it looks like we have a bunch of transhumanists who have taken their view of his Ubermensche and applied it to H-Plus thought.”
“H-Plus is short hand for transhumanism. There was a convention of the leading 120 of their thinkers in Pasadena two years ago to discuss the development of human-friendly artificial intelligence. The extropianists were well represented. The usual people were there, including Mark Borgstrom, who was one of the principal initial developers of extropianist thought in 1985, and Elaine Hess, the leading figure in the Proactive Singularity Foundation. There was an uninvited guest there, too.”
“One of the Nietzsche guys?”
“Yes. Nobody knows how he got in, or when. They were apparently unaware of his presence until Borgstrom went up to deliver his closing remarks. It was then that an unidentified individual took the stage and introduced himself as Eito Yoshida, a representative of a group calling itself Arbitrary Factor. He made a brief statement declaring extropianism dead, pulled out a pistol, and shot himself in the head. Are you fitted with your lenses yet?”
Josh shook his head. The Ketamine Conspiracy was about to initiate a program of equipping its K-Troopers with contact lenses that were going to provide a digital overlay of the real world directly on their retinas. Josh had been informed that he would be one of the first K-Troopers to be issued the lenses. He was unsure of how he was going to take that. “No,” he replied. “No lenses just yet.”
“That’s too bad. I was going to show you the video. At any rate, Arbitrary Factor appears to be a minor faction within the H-Plus movement previously unknown to any of the other existing groups. Normally we would have written this off as just another bizarre incident, but something came up two days ago that gave us cause to send in a K-Trooper.”
“Oh yeah?” Josh asked through the beat of the music. “What was that?”
“Look for yourself,” the Handler said enigmatically. “Do you see a young Asian man wearing a black shirt and black pants? He has a pair of blue tinted sunglasses on.”
Josh scanned across the crowd until he spotted the man on the far side of the dance floor, sitting in a booth by himself. “Yeah, I have him.”
“Good,” the Handler said. “That’s Eito Yoshida.”
Josh raised an eyebrow. “You mean…”
“Yes, the man who shot himself at the extropianism conference. Apparently he is not as dead as the vids led us to believe. We only just discovered that he is still very much alive when his face showed up on a social networking website. The registered profile owner took us to a complete dead-end, although we did trace the user’s address to Los Angeles. We started watching out for him immediately in the area. When his face popped up again on the club’s security system, we deployed you to check him out. That’s the end of the formal briefing. Welcome back from Rehab, Tiburon.”
Josh crossed his arms and studied Eito Yoshida through the bouncing and bumping mass of humanity, ignoring the strobe lights and flashing lasers playing off of their bodies in the darkness. This should be a relatively light mission, as they always were after time spent in recovery from utilizing all of his enhancements, and he didn’t expect to have to activate any modes beyond Alert. Yoshida remained in his seat for another hour. He spent the time alone and without drinking, simply watching the dancers with unemotional eyes. After observing him for a little while, Josh realized that Yoshida hadn’t moved a muscle the whole time. Weird.
Abruptly Eito Yoshida stood up and started walking towards the entrance through the crowd of partiers. Josh started after him, saying, “Handler, switch me over to Alert mode. Target is on the move.”
“Roger that, Tiburon. I am engaging Alert mode now.”
With the flow of methylphenidate into his system, Josh watched the world transition from the everyday blur into crystal clarity. It was always a slightly disconcerting process, but nowhere near as intense or insane as the other modes. He suddenly saw patterns in the movement of the dancers, perfectly synchronized to the beat of the music. He walked smoothly and easily through the crowd, his cleanly operating mind plotting an easy path amongst the moving bodies that left him touching almost no-one as he passed by.
He caught a glimpse of Yoshida heading out to the parking lot across the street, ignoring the staggering groups of party-goers on the sidewalk. “Target has left the building, Handler. I am going to follow. Is there anything I should know about this Yoshida character?”
“You mean besides his apparent immortality? There is nothing that we are aware of. You should act with caution, however, as outside of his little suicide act and our recent tracings, he is a blank. He doesn’t exist on any system we have our hooks into.”
Grunting in acknowledgement, Josh sprinted across the street and hopped on his motorcycle, firing up the high RPM engine with fluid motion. He kept an eye on Yoshida as he reached into a side compartment and withdrew his two pistols. He’d felt almost naked without them in the club, and a sense of completeness came over him as he shoved them beneath his jacket into their shoulder holsters. As Yoshida pulled out into traffic in his Lexus SUV, Josh was not too far behind.
Traffic was heavy that night, which was to Josh’s advantage, and it took some time for them to make their way onto Sunset Boulevard. Yoshida headed east towards downtown LA, always followed by the K-Trooper at a few tens of yards. Initially the traffic was slow and heavy, but now it was as though they were flowing along a fast moving stream. To his drug-augmented mind the cars seemed as though a school of fish, swirling and sliding along with the currents, and patterns in their movement developed.
“He’s getting through all these cars without too much trouble,” Josh reported to the Handler. “I make him as Enhanced in some way. We’re following similar algorithms with this traffic at the same pace.”
“You had to figure he would be Enhanced, not being dead after shooting himself in the head two years ago and all. Were you hoping for a twins situation?”
“Or clones,” Josh replied. “Yes, I kind of was. You had better prep me for a full run of Tactical and Phase modes. I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Affirmative, Tiburon. Loading both routines… now. Deployment systems are reporting as good to go, as are the counter-deploy systems. Will run at your request.”
“Good to go.” It was a phrase Josh had used frequently while in the Marine Corps. He’d heard his Handler use other phrases common to the Corps. She once said, “zero-dark-thirty.” “Zero-dark-thirty” was a play on the words used in military time to express that it was extremely early in the morning. He’d only ever heard Marines say it. He asked her if she’d been in the Corps, but she ignored his query. Of course, he had considered the idea that it wasn’t always the same Handler, but rather multiple Handlers operating off of a custom script written to match his personality. Josh had no way of knowing, having never been to the Command Center. He didn’t even know where it was.
The Lexus SUV pulled smoothly out of the flow of traffic and onto a side street. There were still a few cars on the road; enough for Josh to mask his presence, at any rate.
“Tiburon, Overwatch is reporting Phase activity in that area. They say the indications are it is your target, confirming your suspicion that Yoshida is enhanced in some way. I am giving you the trigger mechanism for your enhancements. Be careful, Tiburon.”
“Roger that,” Josh replied. It was common practice to unlock the deployment systems for Phase and Tactical modes if action was considered imminent. He had only to send the right thought command, and chemicals would pour into his system. He hoped there would be no need for that.
Yoshida pulled the Lexus into a narrow alley; Josh pulled the bike over and climbed off. He slipped into the alley and merged with the shadows. Following the SUV slowly until it came to a stop, he watched on from behind a dumpster. He waited for ten minutes, but nothing happened. The Lexus just sat there, its motor running, its driver’s actions unknown.
“Tiburon, I am seeing an LAPD dispatch that has a unit coming out your way. Someone called in a prowler. I suggest you leave immediately and avoid that whole situation.”
Josh considered this for a moment, and said, “Negative, Handler. I am withdrawing, but only until I find another opening. I am abandoning the bike.” He hated giving up on a mission so easily, especially one with such an interesting background.
“Understood, Tiburon. Stay loose.”
Josh ran back to the bike and jetted off to ditch it a block away. He came back around a corner just in time to see the Lexus disappearing down the road. He quickly found a car, hotwired it, and followed Yoshida. A police cruiser passed by going the other way.
“Handler, is Overwatch still reading anything?”
“I will have an answer for you in a moment; I am querying now.” A moment later she said, “Negative, Tiburon, Overwatch is showing no Phase activity in your area.”
“So he might think I’m gone,” Josh said. “For now, anyway. Let’s hope he gets to where he’s going soon, before he spots me again.” Fortunately that turned out to be the case, and the Lexus pulled off into an apartment building parking garage. Josh dropped the car and walked into the lobby. He easily talked his way past the doorman and went through the stairwell door. He was down the stairs and in the underground parking garage in less than a minute, scoping the area for his target.
“I was wondering if you were going to catch up with me,” Yoshida said as he stepped around a corner and faced Josh. “You Conspiracy types are persistent. Good.”
Josh almost triggered Tactical mode and snatched for his pistols, but kept his hands at his sides. Yoshida, though disconcerting, was not really threatening him. “Eito Yoshida. I see that your death was prematurely reported. I half hoped you were some kind of twin or clone, or maybe our monitoring system had a glitch. It’s good to see our intelligence division is still delivering quality results.”
The Asian man studied Josh for a moment, and then grinned. “I suspect you and I know a surprising amount about each other. Don’t they call you ‘Shark?’”
“Tiburon,” Josh replied, his disgust at the name evident. He’d always hated the codename the Ketamine Conspiracy assigned to him. “My call-sign is Tiburon. I don’t know yours.”
“Arbitrary Factor doesn’t operate along the same military lines the Conspiracy operates under. We are a more egalitarian organization. You can call me Eito. I take it, then, that the Conspiracy picked up on my image online, and again at the club. Am I correct?”
This man isn’t informed, he’s just playing us, Josh thought. “That is correct. That was intentional of you. Why?”
“Come,” Yoshida said, gesturing towards the elevator. “Let us go up to my apartment and talk.”
Josh squinted his eyes in suspicion. “Alright, let’s go.”
“Tiburon, I am going to have to protest this action right now…”
“Shut up,” Josh subvocalized. “You’re distracting me, and things are a little hairy right now. I’m going in.” He stepped onto the elevator ahead of the grinning Yoshida. He hated having to shut the Handler up like that, but he needed to keep on his toes with Yoshida.
“Our two organizations have a common past, you know,” Yoshida said. “Both got their start at the same ARPA defense labs back in the sixties. You guys were in the psychological warfare division and we were in communications.”
Josh looked sidelong at Yoshida as he made the connections in his mind. “Arbitrary Factor came out of ARPANET?”
“Not directly, but yes. While your John Lilly was toying around with sensory deprivation chambers and mushrooms, we were getting computers to talk to each other. True, it took us longer to discover Phase Space, but the nineties were good to us, and we got caught up a bit. By the way, we don’t normally call ourselves Arbitrary Factor.”
“What do you call yourselves?”
Yoshida grinned his half-sly grin again, saying, “We’re also not that kind of organization.”
The doors opened and they stepped out into open room, rather than a hallway, that was poorly lit by blinking LED lights and computer monitors, and crowded with all manner of electronics equipment. Wires snaked across the floor in all directions, and stacks of gear lined the walls. Some of the hardware was obviously leftover from the early days of electronics, while other machines were completely alien to Josh.
“Make yourself at home,” Yoshida said wryly as he stepped into the tangled maze of technology. “So do you ever wonder just what is on the other side of the Phase Wall?”
“Phase Wall?” Josh asked. “We just call it Phase.” He feared that he might be letting slip some of the company secrets, and knew that the Handler was logging all of this. Still, he felt he could get more information than he let out, and maybe learn a little history about the Conspiracy in the process. “I have wondered what exactly is on the other side, but not enough to go looking.”
“Well, we looked, and let me tell you, it’s something else. We just don’t know how to cross all the way over. Just like you guys.”
Josh nodded. He had always suspected something else did lie on the far side of Phase, but it was always just out of his mind’s reach. “Yeah, but I’m not sure I want to go all the way over, either. Just the things I’ve seen between worlds are scary enough.”
Bending over a keyboard, Yoshida stared at a monitor for a moment. “Yeah, from what we can tell there are some pretty crazy things over there. It makes me shudder to think about some of them. Physically, though, we can’t even go into the Phase Wall like you guys can. Simulations tell us you can perform some remarkable feats by doing it, too.”
“Some,” Josh agreed, remaining nonspecific about it. “So what’s the score here? What game are you playing?”
Yoshida straightened his back and glanced at another computer monitor across the room. “You mean the suicide act? Sorry about that, but we were setting a flag up in the system for you guys to find us later should we so desire to communicate with you. It was incredibly dramatic, but I only wanted my face out there the one time.”
“I see,” Josh said. He wasn’t too surprised, although he was impressed by the technique. It was just the sort of activity the Conspiracy engaged in on a regular basis, but he didn’t have anything to do with those operations. He was generally considered more a bringer of destruction and less an intelligence gatherer. This mission was just a re-acquaintance to the world from Rehab, and was supposed to be light on violence. “And the video footage? Fake?”
“Yes and no. I really did shoot myself in the head, but obviously I didn’t die. You don’t need to know the details. We also got the side benefit of that being a recruiting moment for some of those present, and we’re not even really extropianists.”
“Right,” Josh agreed. “So now that we’re talking, what’s your angle?”
Yoshida walked to a window and peered out into the night. “As I said, we are trying to move beyond seeing into Phase Space and actually going all the way across the Wall. You K-Troopers can almost get across, and actually operate within the Phase Wall. We believe that we can adopt your methods and technology to work with our sensor systems, and complete the transition across.”
Leaning against a metal storage shelf, Josh fought to keep his hand from straying too close to one of his .45s. His tightly focused brain was sensing something out of place, and that was setting him on edge. “You don’t really think the Ketamine Conspiracy is going to share its tech with you guys, do you? What, in exchange for your technology? Seriously?”
“No,” Yoshida said softly. “We’re going to take it.”
The elevator doors exploded outwards into the room, throwing Josh hurtling into a wall of electronics gear. Sparks shot across the room, scorching his skin, and a roar filled the air. Before he could trigger Tactical mode, something smashed against the back of Josh’s head. He lay stunned for a moment, then fell into the depths of unconsciousness.